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Saudi brands cash in on Gaza boycott as food market grows

Shoppers across the Gulf are boycotting Western brands; in Saudi Arabia 72% say their brand choices are influenced by the conflict in Gaza Jeffrey Isaac Greenberg/Alamy via Reuters Connect
Shoppers across the Gulf are boycotting Western brands; in Saudi Arabia 72% say their brand choices are influenced by the conflict in Gaza
  • Consumers shun Western products
  • Local beverages grow in popularity
  • 72% of Saudis surveyed boycott brands

Saudi Arabian food and beverage brands are hoping to benefit from regional consumers shunning Western brands over the conflict in Gaza, with some franchise owners beginning to feel the impact of an informal boycott. 

Some outlets in the Gulf have stopped stocking Western soft drinks and are replacing them with Saudi versions that have shot up in popularity, such as Kinza and Stream. 

“Habibi, no Cola,” said one shop-owner in Muscat, the Omani capital, who had ample stock of the Saudi brands, adding: “We stopped selling it because of Gaza.” 

Kinza was launched by Al Jameel Food, a Saudi company, in 2022 but the company says the Gaza conflict has increased its reach. 

“It wasn’t our goal to increase sales [over Gaza], we had a target and plan for sales. But what’s happening in Gaza has given more exposure,” said a sales official who gave his name as Jameel. “We are exporting to many countries in the Gulf and outside the Gulf.” 

Global geopolitics is increasingly playing a role in consumer choice. 

In public relations company Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer report, nearly eight out of 10 consumers in Saudi Arabia said they now more often buy home brands instead of foreign brands. 

More than one in three people of 15,000 surveyed globally said they were boycotting brands seen as supporting a side in Gaza, including 72 percent of people surveyed in Saudi Arabia, the report said. 

Americana Restaurants International – the Saudi-UAE firm that owns the franchises for KFC, Pizza Hut and Hardee’s – has reported that net profit fell in the first quarter of this year by 51 percent to $28 million. 

Kuwait’s Alshaya – Shake Shack, Chipotle and global coffee chain Starbucks – said in March it was cutting staff at Starbucks branches across the region due to a Gaza-linked fall in sales. 

In the first quarter Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund slashed its US equity holdings by 42 percent to $20.6 billion, including its stake in Starbucks. 

The fast food market, including burgers and other meat products, pizza, coffee and ice cream, continues rapid growth in Saudi Arabia. 

According to Mordor Intelligence, the market size will grow by over 9 percent a year from over $9 billion in sales this year to $15 billion in 2029, with the number of outlets jumping from 24,000 to 34,000. 

But in a highly fragmented market, the top five companies account for less than 2 percent of the total – including Saudi outlets AlBaik and Herfy, and franchise owners Americana, Alshaya and the Saudi company Cenomi Retail, which has Subway and Cinnabon within its portfolio. 

“The key driver of growth… is the increased adoption of online and mobile ordering platforms, with a high percentage of the population now owning smartphones and having access to the internet,” Mordor said in a recent report. 

But Yvonne Biesinger of Creation Business Consultants, which is based in Riyadh and Dubai, said Western food and beverage outlets were still finding business in Saudi Arabia. 

“There is a huge amount of interest for businesses wanting to enter Saudi Arabia. We have seen increasing queries from international high-end restaurant brands, particularly those with locations in Europe and Dubai,” she said. 

“These brands are now looking to cater to UAE residents who are either travelling or relocating to Saudi Arabia and already familiar with these brands.”

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